Why is sailing such a gotta-have-testosterone thing? Is it just my imagination? Or is it just my club where the majority of women who take the helm do so only out of necessity, to put the boat on the trailer or go long-term cruising? It is much more pronounced in the racing club, were except for Hot Flash (the women’s boat), just a few gals work on the foredeck.
Today I noticed in a popular sailing magazine there were men, and more men, tons of guys pictured racing sailboats. There were men sailing everywhere. I took a tally, counting only the faces I could positively see were men. I discounted several dozen broad shouldered forms in silhouette and too small to absolutely determine as male. I came up with 137, without-a-question men. Only five women were pictured. Three sailing — none at the helm. The editors tossed in a photo of an adoring wife, a voluptuous woman in scanty over-crowded bra, Brazilian Carnival feathers and beads. And in the back pages, a woman was shown hauling a waterlogged fellow being lifted aboard with a halyard. The caption for that dramatic action photo where the woman was a hero, “I think the new guy on our crew has a crush on me…” Oh brother! The other two photos with women aboard boats — were in ads. Of course! Women are great shoppers, spenders of men’s money. I was miffed!
Don’t get me wrong. I love men. My husband, Ed, is a guy. I love him enough to have stuck with him for 36 years. My only child is a man, and of course I love him. I only have brothers, and I am sort of fond of them, too. As a matter of fact, many of my friends are guys. So when I declare I am a feminist, and that women don’t get equal chances, don’t get the wrong idea. I just want a fair shake, not to reduce men to eunuchs by kicking them off their boats.
Flipping back and forth in the not-targeted-at-me magazine reminded me when I was learning the basics of sailing. Ed and I took a lesson together. To the male instructor I was an afterthought, an appendage to Ed, who, having a pair, deserved his full attention and the male privilege to learn to sail. In Teach’s mind I was capable of fetching a drink or coiling lines, if I paid attention. This was in spite of the fact Ed and I both paid him equally generous amounts to be taught to tack and jibe. During the lesson we encountered rather large rollers. I was delighted when Ed suddenly overwhelmed by mer de mar spewed over the transom, leaving me as the only vertical student. As he laid out in the cockpit to collect himself, I gained the instructor’s attention.
Taking the helm I asked my first pent up question, “How can I tell if I am on a collision course with that guy?” I pointed to a boat on starboard tack nearly a quarter-mile away. “Er, well.” I could hear the caveman gears cranking hard, searching for a way to explain this concept to a woman. “Its like when you are pushing a cart in the grocery store. You can just tell if you are going to run into someone. Usually you let the woman on the right go if you are about to bump.”
“Ooooh, I see.” I replied pondering how, without ever thinking about it, I had never had a cart-sinking-crash on Aisle 8. Still I did not knowing how to avoid a bump and grind in San Diego Harbor. While I still learned quite a bit, that analogy has always stuck in my mind.
So I sailed along for years thinking of the boat as a grocery cart — certainly not something to race. In spite of that, with Ed’s encouragement, I tried sail racing over decade ago. I did some practice races on Bliss, my Santana 23. Although I was supposed to be the skipper, I was easily bullied by the crew, who insanely wanted me to make the boat go fast. Then not satisfied, faster! The same season I was asked to be the “bow maid”, setting the pole and doing the bidding of a lack luster elderly skipper. It was neither gratifying nor fun — but familiar — much like pushing an over ladened cart while in an after work rush to get dinner started. Although my skipper was a sweet heart, I noticed there was a lot of hollering on the course. That was an unwanted source of added stress in my already stressful life. I was baffled by it all, only knowing vaguely the point was to following the faster boats around big yellow balloons. It made me nervous, too, not understanding what the heck all the yelling was about or why we collided with so many boats so many times. Did my skipper never visit the grocery store? Maybe it was me! Surely the fleet’s wrath would be aimed at me if I unknowingly caused another t-boning. After a few bruising races I stepped off the boat convinced racing was not for me. It was silly to try to make a slow boat sail fast.
Diane helped change all this. After four years of racing with boom-voiced guys, she was tired of being bossed around on the foredeck. She got her own race boat — only women allowed on board. She was sure a women crew could race with civility. She asked me to crew on her spiffed-up Santana, Hot Flash. Liking Diane and seeing her scaled-down, bright and shiny version of Bliss, it was hard to say no. After a few races acting as crew, I was thrown into the role of being the helmsman. She needed someone really small to keep the stern of the light-weight boat out of the water. Hot Flash proved to be a lithe version of Bliss, a powerful big sister. Then Diane invited Lynn to join the crew, a sailing instructor, a woman sailing instructor.
It was like I had a book of sailing secrets all along, and I finally opened it. I had sailed for fifteen years becoming a pretty good sailor, and was comfortable in a role acquiescing to Ed as the expert at the helm. From what I saw in the sailing world it was my proper place. Meeting and sailing with Lynn changed my perspective. She not only encouraged me, explained things so I understood, then corrected me so I learned from my many mistakes, but she showed me that sailing is not just a man’s sport and the boat is not to be treated like a shopping buggy. Racing sailboats is a sport more men are good at than women — only because more men get more chances to practice. They don’t necessarily take the helm from us, we just let them take it and keep it, especially when things get challenging.
When you look at your favorite sailing magazine, look for the women at the helm. Women sailors are out there and some editors make an effort to show the females. Women can get a fair shake and can learn to sail with the best of them. And a sailboat can go fast. Believe me, the last thing on my mind as the boat speeds around a mark is how well I can push a shopping cart.
In the past few years I have done a half dozen or so double braid eye splices. I finished a splice a few days ago and the sense of absolute amazement, when in the end it works, is no less than the first success. In spite of following the meticulous directions to the letter, I had little faith in my first double braid attempt. I inspected the line, a snake swallowing itself, and wondered if I somehow got it wrong. I didn’t give up, did not second guess, didn’t really believe it would work. But, it did.
The beginning steps; marking the eye, measuring the line, trimming the taper, seemed logical, easy to follow and straight forward, but when the core of the line was pulled to lay over the cover, literally turning the rope inside out, it suddenly looked soooo wrong. Still, when I see my handiwork after this disemboweled stage, the words, “This can’t be right.” leap from my mouth every time. I imagine, now that I have completed a few successful splices, that cosmic mysteries such as worm holes are akin to the mechanics of a double braid eye splice. And further more, who ever figured out how to make a double braid eye splice in the first place was every bit as brainy as an astrophysicist who dreams of dark matter, black holes and time warps.
YOU WILL NEED THE FOLLOWING
double braid line (cut a bit longer than you need, in case you lose faith and start over)
fid the right size to work with your line (You will have to shove the core into the open end of the fid tightly enough that it does not fall out when pulling through the cover, so you want a fid big enough to accommodate the core. Conversely, you will also have to force the fid through the cover and past a length of the tapered core, so you want a fid small enough for this very tight squeeze.)
five different colored fine tip markers (red, green, blue, orange and black are used in these directions but you can choose your own contrasting colors as long as there is no a confusion about which is which)
sharp knife and manicure scissors if you have them
The first step in my directions is simple yet the hardest to follow. If you think to yourself, this is wrong, refer to step one.
- Trust the directions. It works.
- Tape the end of the line with one wrap of masking tape to keep the end from fraying. From this end measure one fid length down the line. Mark the spot with an X on the line. From the X form a loop the size you want. Pinch the rope together at the X and mark the junction of the loop with a green marker all the way around the line. If using a thimble pull the line to fit around the thimble. If using a block, pull the block between the X and green mark.
- Measure five fid lengths down the line from the green mark. Tie a snug slip knot. This is to keep the core and the cover stable down the line.
- Extract the core. At the green mark bend the line sharply, spread the weave, and with a blunted probe (marlinspike) first pry, then pull the core out of the cover all the way from the taped end. Tape the newly exposed core end with a single, snug layer of masking tape.
- Gripping the end of the newly exposed core, slide the cover bunching it towards the knot as far as possible. Starting at the slip knot, smooth the cover back towards the bitter end (taped end). Repeat the smoothing process until all slack is removed.
- Make a blue mark all the way around the core where it emerges from the cover.
- Slide the cover back towards the slip knot to expose more of the core. From the blue mark lay the fid along the core, pointed side toward the “Y”. Make an orange mark around the core at the notches on the fid.
- On the core, from the orange mark towards the “Y,” measure one full fid length plus the short section, to the notches. Mark this all the way around the core with a black mark.This is a good place to take a break.
- Marking the cover for tapering is necessary because the tail of the cover will have to be swallowed inside the splice. A taper is essential for stuffing both the cover and core back inside the splice. To make a good taper, starting at the X and working towards the end, count eight consecutive strands and mark completely around the cover with a red mark. Starting at the red mark and working toward the taped cover end, count and mark the fifth (5th) right and left strand. From that red mark count to the fourth (4th) right and left strand. Proceed in this manner, marking the fifth (5th) right and left strand and then marking the fourth (4th) right and left strand, until you reach the end of the taped cover. Now the interesting part begins as you insert the cover into the core, turning a section inside out.
- Insert the fid into the core at the orange mark and out at the black mark. Add extra tape to the cover’s end then jam it as tightly as you can into the hollow end of the fid. Smoothly roll one layer of tape around the end of the fid and line to form a strong connection. Then milk the cover braid over fid while pulling fid and cover through to the black mark. Take the fid off the cover; continue pulling cover tail through the core until the on the cover emerges from the black mark. Remove the tape from the end of the cover.
- Now you will trim the strands and make the cover taper. Remove the tape from the cover end. Start with the last marked pair of cover strands toward the end, clip and pull them completely out. Cut and remove next marked strands continuing with each right and left marked strands until you reach the red mark. Do not cut beyond this point. The result will be a nice taper. Very carefully pull the cover back through the core just until the red mark emerges.
The sun has not yet exposed herself, but teases the harbor with hints of her arrival, peeking from behind a curtain of lavender clouds to the east. It is neither dark nor light as I carefully tie the dink to the pier. A clove hitch finished with two half hitches should hold, even if the wind kicks up. A red sign at eye level commands, “Boats must use a stern anchor.” The edict is clear but I don’t want to waste time. Sunrise will not wait. Sure, my craft is a “boat” but I rationalize the rule should not apply to it. Maybe in the Bahamas a dink isn’t considered a boat. It’s a rubber bumper for cripes sake. What harm could it cause if it swings? I disregard the sign, unwilling to re-board, dig out and set the anchor. They’ll know it belongs to an inept charterer. It’ll be fine.
A pudgy middle-aged man in a tiny rust-pocked car parked pointing to the quiet harbor watched as I tied up. Now, he openly stares as I walk toward him. I say good day and for some reason confess I didn’t deploy an anchor.
“Ah ha. Well, which boat’s yours?” he asks, as if he hadn’t witnessed my arrival. I know he did.
“The dinghy. I don’t need an anchor for a dink, do I?”
“Nah. Not for a dinghy.”
“Thanks,” I wave and trot up the narrow street, running faster than usual, wanting to escape his creepy gaze. I feel him watching as I huff up the hill.
There’s a five-mile long beach on the far side of the narrow island. Running toward the Atlantic, I hope to arrive there before morning floats above the horizon. I hurry to the beach. The view, singular in its splendor, stops me in my tracks.
“Ah! Ohhhh my!”
White-laced turquoise fans splay open on the creamy beach. In reverence, I remove my shoes dropping them in a sandy remembrance of volleyball and sand castles. The beach gives way to my weight until I reach the saturated strand where the water has flattened all evidence of anything but the sea. My steps dent the immaculate welcome mat to the Atlantic. This is the center of the beach. Long wings of sand spread both east and westward. I begin to run toward the rising sun, the sand sponging beneath me as I gaily sing, “Heaven. I’m in heaven.”
I go on a gleeful romp. Exuberance propels me at a too-fast pace to greet the sun as it pierces through a battlement of clouds. I’m kissed by the breeze against my cheeks. Perfect, this amazing place is perfect. Happy, I’m giddy, ecstatic … but about to run out of sand. A dark, craggy outcropping marks the turn-around. In my excitement, I’ve run too far, and on sand!
I make a wide arc passing my own footprints, some already erased by the surf. With the wind at my back and the sun out, it’s suddenly hot. The sun mocks my slowed running with a shadow plodding along. Wind whips hair across my sweating face and pastes it over my eyes. Attempts to hold it back are in vain.
Nearing where I dropped my shoes, I’m glad I’m done. Overheated and sweating like I never sweat in Arizona, I wade into the water and plop backward, letting a wave wash over my smoldering head. Hair swirls as I lift on my elbows, laying back with my face poking just above the quenching water. This extinguishes the heat, but as I walk to collect my shoes rivers of salty water erupt again and roll down my face, arms, back and legs. Hair hangs in dribbling clumps in front of my eyes as I bend to wash sand from my feet. I have to cross deep dry sand but I don’t recall where I entered. Was this the place? Or was that? The chaotic beach is featureless. I pick the closer way thinking, How can I go wrong on an island.
Jogging to cool down, it doesn’t take long to realize this is not the way I came, but I’m going the right direction, headed back toward the south. At the crest I turn right. It looks flatter, easier so I zig-zag down to the waterfront and walk exhausted to the dock.
Huh? I don’t see my dinghy. Where is it? Uhoh. Was I that sloppy with my knots? I wipe sweat from my eyes and rub them in disbelief. Its not here! The man in the rusty car is gone. Where’d he take my dinghy! I knew I should have put out the anchor.
I scan the harbor. Our Moorings 40′ has the tender tied at the stern. What the … who swam in and took the dink? Who’s that kid! … Oh, that’s not our boat … This isn’t our harbour. Where’s my dinghy? Where’s my harbour? Where’s my chartered boat? Not here. Where the hell am I?
I’m on the right shore, the Sea of Abaco side of the island. I remember from the chart a Fisher’s Cove around a jut of land from Settlement Harbour. Ah, I must be at Fisher’s. I’m not lost. Not really. I’m at Fisher’s, but did I run past Settlement or did I not run far enough? I decide I needed to go up the hill when I took the flat route, but had I turned right or left? I can’t remember. I’ll ask someone where Settlement Harbour is! Of course pedestrian traffic is less than bustling at o’dark-thirty. I’ll jog uphill and figure it out.
Reaching the hilltop it is still not clear which way I should turn. There’s a fifty-fifty chance I went too far, so I turn back, run up one hill and around another. Not the way I came but reasonable. For a long way, there’s no road, no path back to the Abacos side of the island. I run farther thinking I made another wrong turn, wishing I had water. I’m hoping to see someone to ask for a drink, and directions, when a narrow road opens to my right.
Aha, this is the way. In a few yards there’s the tiny rusted car. He’s still there. I turn and walk casually to the dock. My dink is still where I left it. My boat is where I left it. My knots are as I left them and I didn’t need an anchor. No one needs to know, they’re not even up yet. I jump into the dink, start the outboard and buzzing along promise myself I won’t say a word about getting lost.
We anchor in the afternoon off Lynyard Cay. With the first sandy beach of our trip beckoning, I am quick to get into the water. Uncharacteristically, I huff and puff after a short swim to the bow, where I hold myself against the anchor snubber to breathe in the splendor. I settle my breathing and swim to shore.
To the west, nimbus clouds of many distinctions block the waning sun. A green-black ribbon of land splits the sky from the sea. To the north, a spit of green juts westward, a stand of trees testifying to the prevailing westerly winds. Beyond that, clusters of shadowy islands litter the horizon. I know from our approach, the island is inhabited. As we passed an isolated compound made up of two over-sized houses, we joked it was Mic Jagger’s estate.
To the south, a nearby headland dotted with habitation caps the sea. Buildings shimmer brilliant white against a green lushness I am unaccustomed to seeing.
At the terminus of the sand, I join Mark who has appeared under the shade of a large mangrove fruited with a collection of jetsam marked with dates and cheery messages from sailors. Nearby, a ceramic toilet, throne-like, is situated as if a castaway should preside over the display and the anchorage. It is an oddly harsh symbol of man’s nature in the otherwise densely natural landscape. As I stand reading the messages on the floats, a pea-sized hermit crab transits my toes. I lift my foot to show the delicate creature to Mark, then walk back to the water’s edge.
A bagel shaped, nubby, black sea creature washes up at my feet. I squat to inspect, flipping the animal over to scrutinize a greenish center. I call to Mark, looking toward the hanging garden of buoys. He is no where to be seen but Emily is swimming toward the beach. She and a starfish arrive simultaneously.
I pick up the stone-like starfish.
“Look what came ashore!” I joke. We walk ankle deep in the sea toward each other taking long neanderthal strides. Leaning forward we lurch through water we churn with sand into a milky white. Holding the star’s underside toward Emily its stiff points curl magically toward me. Mark suddenly reappears as Emily strokes the creatures underbelly prompting sticky tentacles to protrude and blindly arc around their tiny reach. The star’s arms are pointed back at me. Its center is deeply puckered.
Mark laughs and says, “Look out, his stomach may come out his mouth.”
As if in cahoots with Mark, the star widens the orifice.
“Eeeuew!” Quickly I lay it in a Sasquatch-sized foot print Mark has left in the wet sand.
“I walked to the Atlantic.” Mark boasts.
“How far was it?” I ask, thinking I have no intention of making the trek in my tender bare feet.
“Allll the way across the island” she says with a wide gesture. “… about 200 yards. Come on.” he says more to Emily, then looks at me. “Let’s go look.”
“I don’t have shoes.” I state the obvious and add, “My feet are so tender.”
“You’ll be fine. It’s mostly sand.” he says assuringly as we start up the narrow path past the motley monument to cruising.
The sound of the Atlantic, feral and turbulent, bellows from just beyond our view as we tramp up the sandy trail. Waves crashing on an exposed coral shelf boom, then the sea seethes as water strains in retreat. The brush thins to reveal raw sugar colored sand trapped above the reef by the wrath of the ocean.
Craggy gray coral spires are cached with pools of tepid seawater, evidence of a retreating tide. The raw majesty is blemished with tangled tendrils of gaily colored fishing net knitted into the sharp rocks. Bright blue tangles, yellow knots and red bights of polypropylene punctuate the seascape. Scanning the scene, I realize I expected the litter. I easily accept it, impotent to change the fact that it exists. Casting my eyes toward a wave washing up to my bare feet, I step back as a wave deposits an orange and white toothbrush. It looks newer than the one I have at home. My flesh, my bones will be dust before all evidence of this discarded tool is gone from the earth. Another wave buries it a bit in the sand, then skitters seaward.
Ashamed, I walk away.
Reefs. This place is full of them, or more precisely the Abacos, is a reef. Inexplicably, mounds of coral have protruded from the shallow sea creating islands as wild as one can imagine. Manjack is one of them. Almost as miraculously as the coral taking hold and forming a spit of land, this insubstantial protrusion from the water will soon be a place of human habitation. It will take Herculean efforts for man to comfortably live here, but it is imminent if not already a fact.
As wild as this spot is, we are not alone on the island. Three other catamarans bob in the anchorage and two small craft hang near the beach. One of the boats, Sloop du Jour, is familiar. A day ago we saw them anchored on the Fowl Cay Reef dense with Blue Tangs, Damsels, Sargent Majors and Parrot Fish. Literally, “anchored on.” They had dropped their heavy anchor and chain rode along the delicate reef so, for a few moments, they could snorkel in the splendor that took eons to develop. Surely they later ravished the coral dragging up the tackle with their windlass.
I eye them warily then don my goggles, jump off the stern, swim toward the bow, then veer toward the white stretch of beach. I aim for a smart yellow building, perhaps a small cottage. The sea bottom is a motley lawn of swaying grass pocked with bald white sandy spots dotted with spiny urchins. A body length in front of my reach, a turtle languidly flies towards the shore. I pick up speed to try to match the turtles’ pace. He seems unaware of my progress for quite a long distance, until I awkwardly thump my foot on the surface of the water. Without slowing, he cranes his neck until our eyes meet, then vanishes ahead with no apparent increased effort.
Turning to swim back to the boat to boast of my encounter I’m surprised when I surface. It’s raining hard and the boat is cloaked in a lacy skirt of spattering water, barely visible. The thought of loosing sight of my craft makes my heart suddenly race. I circle toward the stern, in my excitement unable to swim a straight course, and board pushing the dinghy aside. Lowered from the davits it is ready for a trip to shore. My shipmates are gathered in the shelter of the cockpit. From the swim step I tell of my encounter and take an impromptu fresh water shower.
“I saw the coolest thing! I swam with a turtle.” I let the cool downpour rinse salt from my hair and body. The boat begins a swing away from the beach to point toward a cut in the land where the sea is surging and breaking against exposed coral. Two of the boats have departed. Sloop du Jour and the runabouts remain. Toweling off, I join the others in the cockpit to watch the rain filling the dink.
The island, like most of the mounds raising from the Sea of Abacos, is a low crescent. It is easy to discern the end we lay closest to is very narrow. A few yards of coral separates the Sea of Abacos from the deeper Atlantic. The belly of the island is a dense tangle of green; wild, super-sized versions of common houseplants woven through mangroves, delicately edged with sea oats and a thin strip of sand laying before the water. Later, Mark reports the jungle is impenetrable yet a path has been cleared and a house on the Atlantic side is under construction.
Once the rain stops — pauses — we bail the dink then make way through the shallow water to a sandy curve on the beach. We run up as far as possible without going aground, then each grab handholds to lug the craft completely out of the water. For good measure we loop the painter around a broken tree stump as the rain begins to spit again. An orderly line of sea birds stand along the sandy crest pointing into the wind. A carcass of a dinner-sized fish lays close to the dinghy, its stench percolating through the rain. As I walk past, one bird tears away a long string of flesh while another stands nearby waiting for a chance to dine. The other birds point beaks toward the Atlantic; a gradient of excited turquoise blue water blending into a navy blue, dotted with frothy wind whipped white caps. The terns are unconcerned with our transit and stand inanimate like feathered weather vanes pointing windward to the skittering waves. I turn back for a last comforting look at our boat before cresting the low berm. One of the small crafts near the beach is leaving and the occupants of the other are gathering for departure.
As if by instinct, we scatter to survey the wild unsheltered side of the Cay. Solitude has been rare. Without explanations or excuses we turn away from each other and commune privately with nature’s glory. Sunset pink conch shells litter the coral head. Tiny sand tunnels bubble as waves wash over them. A sand dollar slides washes up stopping at my feet. Far off Dianna holds up a huge star fish then drops it back into the shallow water. Bruce stoops over to watch it drift away. Ed walks along well behind me. I wade around the point towards the narrow slit of land. I can see most of our mast as my shipmates disappear behind the jut of land. Ed joins me and we walk to the narrow, picking up conch, examining the creatures and dropping them back to their watery home. As we reach the strand the wind whips. We take a moment to pick a plastic bottle from the sharp coral and head back at a quickened pace. The sea has begin to buck in response to the wind. Waves begin to break against the coral. Suddenly it looks beautifully threatening. Without discussion we turn to retrace our steps. Emily passes us, headed to were we have just left. As we reach the berm, Dianna and Bruce are casually waiting. We ask them about Mark. He is no where to be seen, so to relieve any concern, we joke he could walk anywhere being so tall. Emily is out of sight too. So we wade and turn our faces into the wind and watch the sea’s increasing turmoil. I ask Ed if we should go after Emily.
“Maybe…” He lifts his hand to her small figure wading toward us. It is windy and raining when she joins us.
“Do you think Mark is okay?” I ask, my hair whipping across my face.
“Oh, yes. Sure. He can take care of himself. He’s so tall…” She points down the boat-side of the beach to Mark emerging from the jungle. I notice the fish has been reduced to skin and fins. In the placid lee, the salty surface water springs upward to groove with the rain. The birds stand on the berm ignoring it all.
Without discussion we shove the dinghy into the water and motor to meet Mark who has waded to the middle of the cove, the water scarcely at his hips. Evidence of our presence seems washed from the sand by the peppering rain. I find this comforting.
It’s blustery and the wind reminds me I haven’t written about sailing for quite a while. I have been busy enjoying it, instead of recounting my experiences.
In two weeks the Arizona Yacht Club will host their Commodore’s Dinner in celebration of the Fall ’09/Spring ’10 Race Series. I just looked at the final scoring and had to walk away, refresh the web page and look again. Unbelievable! It appears the women aboard Hot Flash, the Santana 20 with the over-confident flaming hull paint job, took third place. Really. I can’t fathom how THAT happened. Could it be a case of race point accounting gone wrong?
There is ample reason for me to doubt our podium results. Hot Flash had races that were down right embarrassing, notably the ones when Lynn was not aboard to constantly remind me to head up or fall off, or when we had such light winds the touchy boat veered off without my intent, seemingly possessed, avoiding the holy waters between race buoys. We spent more time than any sane sailor would bobbing along, creeping toward the mark at imperceptible speed.
When I told Ed the third place news, he said, and I quote, “Congratulations! Showing up paid off!” His complisult is dead on. If we had not sailed when we had little enthusiasm for sailing soaked, cold and beat up by squally conditions or facing the opposite of over-warm windless grinds, we would have been like most of the fleet, with a slew of “did not starts” and a burden of points to reflect the comfort of staying at home. So, I can’t boast that we placed because of superior skill. I can only say we were tenacious and showed the guys that we could suffer with the best of them. Our winning strategy was to show up.
But it certainly was not all bad, as a matter of fact, overall I had a blast. There were spills and thrills and a lot of learning to sail better that happened during the season. There was bonding with the crew — not all of it pretty. I also discovered, without a doubt, I am a blood and guts competitor. I really love to win, but absolutely hate to lose. Somehow I had managed to deny those two facts, preferring to think I did not need to win to be confident of my skills. I was surprised by my competitive behavior. When we missed a start by two minutes (an eternity) I was fit to be tied. When I missed a mark, I was not a happy camper. When a crew member made a mistake I quietly fumed. (I tried to keep it to myself — but they could undoubtedly tell I was “displeased”.) When a Catalina, not in our fleet, failed to respond properly to my “Starboard!” calls to give way, I exploded the F-bomb while our competition passed and the guilty Catalina fended off our stern, veering us woefully off course. My anger was over a few seconds lost during a seven-month, 43 race experience.
Our actual racing time for the season was recorded as 37 hours, 21 minutes and 28 seconds, figuring our four time limit expirations as only two hours each (not the eternity they actually took). I needed to know the details. The five seconds that cost one point, the few moments we squandered with a sloppy tack, the sail we let go untrimmed — I see how they all added up.
Out of that day-and-a-half actively racing, I estimate I spent eight hours frustrated with the oh-so-slow pace, two hours thrilled, a few minutes scared out of my wits, and the 26 plus hour balance having a really good time. Out of the 37 plus hours, I learned more than in the past four or five years of kicked-back, relaxed sailing, not caring where I went or how fast I got there.
I’m glad it is over so I can relax, but look forward to doing it again — a bit faster.
Most places in the world, we sailors can not wait for the summer to begin, bringing warm breezes and long days, ingredients for splendid sailing. Where I sail though, we can’t wait for the summer to wane.
With October here, the weather I have yearned for can finally be glimpsed around the calendar’s corner — it will be less than 110 degrees Fahrenheit every day until May. That is no shock to the majority of folks in the northern hemisphere. The surprise comes in the fact, the average temperatures in the desert, where I sail, will stand around 65 to 75 throughout the fall and winter. No blizzards, no ice on the lake, no bone chilling days are anticipated near Phoenix.
Even though the highs still hovered around 100 degrees last weekend, I could wait no longer. I went sailing Friday night with Linda. We leisurely skimmed on Orange Crush across the black water, ate dinner with a group at a new waterfront restaurant then sailed back. Saturday and Sunday I raced in Arizona Yacht Club’s fall racing series. Three times out definitely marks the beginning of my sailing season.
All three outings were on boats owned and sailed by women. This is rare. I don’t know why, but it’s men who usually get the “family” boat, then take charge of it — occasionally naming it after a wife, a gesture to infer the womenfolk are a part of the boating equation.
Ed found our boat Bliss. A Santana 23, she was in line with what he wanted. We traveled to San Diego to get a look at her — he insisted I come. When I saw her I was not smitten. She looked short, squat and retro. Sort of like me, but dusty and needing a bath. Maybe that is why Ed immediately loved her, not that she was dirty, but that she looked like me. He negotiated the deal while I wandered the yard and looked at other sleeker, shinier boats I would rather take home. He insisted I write the check so I would “have skin in the game,” and cause to feel Bliss would be my boat too. He saw something I did not understand — Bliss would be as much mine as she would be his.
The phenomenon, of men owning the boats and thus owning sailing, was illustrated when I looked over the Arizona Yacht Club’s Fall Racing Series skipper list. “Gordon, Steve, Jim, Greg, Charles, Gene, Bill, Mike, Lafe, Joe, Peter…” 34 skippers with only one woman’s name, Dianna, my friend. She invited me to crew on her new cute Santana 20, Hot Flash. Though I’m not a racer, I accepted. I wanted to get a better look at racing and to compare the Santana 20 to Bliss. And of course, it was a chance to go sailing. After giving it a whirl, why there are so many more men than women racing is even more of a mystery. Yes, it was a bit physical, but it did not seem to be a man’s game. As a matter of fact, the men on the race course encouraged us. They were tickled to see a boat full of gals impudently chasing them. It reminded me of the third grade, when the same sort of thing began to happen — girls chasing boys without much of a chance of catching them. Hot Flash didn’t come close to winning any of the seven races, but with each race, the women aboard discovered more about the new boat, the sport and sailing, and we went a bit faster.
I hope with time and practice the tables will turn, as they did around fifth grade. In a few seasons the guys may get a kick out of chasing a boatload of women around the lake.
Miguel’s phone walks across the storage chest, buzzing like an over-sized beetle. Cook extracts himself from the galley, grabs the phone and pretends to toss it out the open hatch. We cheer as he follows Randy’s earlier remedy—flips the phone open, then shut—to quiet the frenetic buzz.
Amí is still not feeling well enough to join us for dinner and takes her plate dotted with a few bites to the deck to dine in the fresh air. Only Amí is still seasick, apparently not so much she can not read. She uses her heavy hard cover copy of Cryptonomicon as a tray. Elenore loads her dish and stands alone at the nav station to eat. I’ve yet to see her sit, for any reason except to put on socks.
Five men, Margarete and I squeeze around the large salon table intended for six. Three men compress onto the storage chest against the bulkhead, heavily laden plates balanced on their unmanly held-together knees. Late comers Conrad and John, the old Brit Berkley professor, stand and eat at the counter like bachelors.
It’s the first time so many of us have dined together. None of us need be on deck, except Amí who has anchor watch. It is by far the best meal we have had on the trip. We laugh, tell jokes and stuff ourselves continuing our toasts, even though our dole of wine is gone. We toast the sea and the wind, tossing our heads back and tipping our empty glasses, hovering them above our bird-like mouths open to catch an imaginary dribble.
Dessert is chocolate cake intended for the Coffee Bean birthday celebration. I swirl my fingers around my emptied plate to collect the tiniest chocolate morsel as Sam cranes behind the bench to fetch dominoes. Some of us—like me—have never played dominoes, let alone Mexican Train. Seven of us start up an over-crowded game. The rules seem to be, shall I say, flexible. Each person, who has played before, has personal rules. Randy is the natural arbitrator, laughingly choosing any domino dictate which clearly benefits him. The good-natured interpretations and disagreements heighten our fun. We play unfettered by hard and fast law.
The galley and salon grow muggy, even though it is cool outside, a light breeze swirling around the companionway. Our faces flush—made rosy by the wine, the heat and the mood. I feel incredibly happy.
At this moment we have a magical communal lightness—except for Elenore. Just after eating she ran to throw up over the stern. She’s allergic to wine and Cook used it for the salmon. Now that the offending fish is—let’s say “gone”—she’s fine but steaming mad Cook did not warn her. “He knew!” she spat. We joke about domino rules, scarcely looking up as she tromps through the boat, giving Cook the evil eye. I know we are too noisy for her to get the sleep she obviously needs.
After playing several games, the various Mexican Train rules blend to be a new set made solely for this day and this boat. We play and tell sea stories, scoffing at obvious lies and exaggerations and leaning into the table to steady ourselves during a recounting of a fearsome yarn. We are laughing; hooting, loudly when Miguel’s phone buzzes to life.
John pushes back, stands puffing his chest, struts to the phone, swings it in a wide arc to his ear and puts his hand on his hip. He doesn’t answer, but effeminately holds the still buzzing phone to the side of his face batting his eyelashes. We know something is coming and hold our breath. In an pinched falsetto John feigns answering, “Miguel? Si. Un momento. Miguelito, mi amor, es tu madre!”
We beg him, “Do it! Do it! Answer.” He doesn’t. He plucks out the fully charged battery and drops it into his pocket. We slap the table and roar. This game is over. We’ve sent the dominoes dancing.
Cook has closed the bilge and is rooting through the ice chest when Margarete and I emerge from her quarters fully chocolatized. Most of the men who had taken to their bunks to sulk over the floppy dinghy and their resulting denial, are now on deck gazing longingly toward shore. A few others have gathered in the salon and sit reading, eating grapes Cook has set out. Randy, the skipper, is leaning on the threshold of his stateroom casually grasping a handhold while he talks on his cell phone. He’s grinning and cajoling, graphically retelling the tale of the “limp dink.”
After shoving off and until anchoring, phones have been used discretely — except by Miguel, the young Venezuelan, who has his palmed and glued to an ear every moment we are within range of a cell tower. It seems his girlfriend is missing him terribly, even though they chatter constantly. Still hot from recent cooing, Miguel’s phone, which is plugged in for recharging right under Randy’s hand, sings for attention. Randy looks for Miguel to scurry to answer, but he must be in the head or on deck. In a seamless wave Randy drops his hand, swoops up the phone, flicks it open and slaps it shut. Everyone in the salon giggles as the skipper theatrically touches his finger to his lips to shush us. He cranes to look up the hatch.
“Who wants to go ashore?” he asks loudly, holding his phone above his head. An immediate surround-sound, testosterone-juiced chorus of “Me!” “Me!” “Me!” circles the salon. If anyone was asleep, they aren’t now. Spencer yanks the curtain open, toddles into the salon with his hand raised, yawning, “Me too!”
Miguel bounds down the companion way, glances toward his phone and shrugs his shoulders begging a translation.
“Do you want to go ashore?”
“Si. Yes, si!” Miguel smiles as he picks up his phone to determine its status. He checks for messages and plugs it in as Randy finishes his phone conversation.
“My friend who lives here, another skipper, has a skiff he can launch. I didn’t want to impose, so I offered him $100 to water taxi for the evening. His boat can handle six. He has to drive, so five can go ashore in one trip. We should let the birthday boy go to celebrate with his little brother. Miguel, Spencer — Alex, do you want to go?”
Elenore, who looked so longingly towards shore, turns on her heel and lurches up the steps. She knows she must stay aboard and get a bit of sleep.
“Anyone else?” he looks over his shoulder incapable of ignoring the first mate’s huff. “So, it’s settled. We’re pulling anchor at midnight. Don’t miss the boat. Get your twenty bucks and be ready. He’ll be here shortly. Remember, everyone back and set to head north before 2330. No later than 11:30 or you’ll be driving up the coast!”
We nod our heads, satisfied with the arrangement and the change of mood. Cook hoists two bottles of white wine above his head and does the Rocky Balboa victory dance. “Look what I found for the rest of us,” he sings. He stops and gestures stiff arm, palm out. “For dinner,” he decrees. We hold as commanded, lick our lips and make hot tea he has set out. Cook is the master of what and when we eat or drink while on ship — except our chocolate.
Everyone gathers on deck to enjoy the lengthening shadows and scan the harbor for the shore boat’s arrival. A small aluminum skiff nears. The skipper waves and calls to Randy as he eases the throttle. As the boat skims alongside and disappears in our sheer, Miguel’s cell phone rings again. Miguel retreats to the bow to answer, looking somewhat irritated. He returns quickly, flipping his phone shut as he shrugs his shoulders. “Mi novia es crazy por me,” he apologizes.
Boarding will not be as simple as stepping from one deck to the other. We are more than six feet above the waterline. Margarete and Connor rig a rope ladder while Randy introduces his friend below. “This is Charlie. He’ll take you in and bring you back. Call him a half hour before you’re ready or just show up where he drops you at 11. People fall in using these ladders so be careful. If you have anything you don’t want to get wet, leave it or we can hand it down once you board. Miguel, give me your phone,” instructs Randy as the men cue up at the ladder.
The five have primped, slicked their hair, put on travel clothes. They smell strongly of baby wipes and cologne. One by one they lower themselves to the launch and speed away. We watch until they cut behind a jut of docks and Cook has called us to dinner. Randy pulls Miguel’s cell phone from his pocket, plugs it in and turns to serve himself salmon, rice and a green salad. Cook pours wine into small plastic juice glasses and passes them to the table.
“To the birthday boy,” offers Randy. “And the skipper,” adds Ed. “…and the crew.” Smiling, we raise our glasses to toast. Miguel’s phone vibrates loudly.
As soon as we set anchor the boat settles as if the keel was set firmly in bedrock. The sun warms the decks and all manner of clouds dissipate. To the northwest the whipped sea is merely a dark ribbon of contrast below the gray sky.
The dinghy, which for the past two days hung flaccidly from the stern, suddenly becomes an object of serious attention. It is wrestled to the deck by the Coffeebean Brothers, Margarete the engineer and Elenore. The older Bean brother, Michael, is marking a milestone birthday and a trip ashore will ensure a proper celebration. As they lay the craft on deck the younger of the Beans glances over his shoulder as if he expects the coast to disappear. Four mates toil, the men stripping off fleece a layer at a time. Taking turns on a foot pump they work feverishly to revive the boat. Although the resuscitation attempt is intense, the launch refuses the inflation. Soon the entire crew has circled the craft with hands hanging slack at their sides. The little boat is a goner. There’s nothing anyone can do but stand silent and regard its passing. Finally someone asks, “Is there a water taxi? A shoreboat?”
You see, our voyage is dry.